4 Questions Farmers Should Ask When Choosing an E-commerce Platform

E-commerce platforms for direct-market farmers seem like a good idea. But, choose the wrong e-commerce platform for your farm business and the reality can be much different.

U.S. online sales are growing across all categories, jumping by 40% in 2020. A big part of that push was Covid-19.  But even before the pandemic, online sales increased steadily in 2018 and 2019. And actually, the pandemic was a big boost for local food sales.  Many direct-market farmers reported their best sales ever in 2021. Shoppers have more motivation to purchase fresh, nutritious and locally-grown food than ever before.

Without a doubt, e-commerce is becoming an increasingly important part of directly-marketed farm and food artisan sales. But small farm business owners have tight budgets and wear many hats. While e-commerce sounds like a good idea, small farm and food business owners can’t afford to make the mistake of choosing the wrong platform that doesn’t fit with their business.

If you’re shopping for an e-commerce platform for your small farm business, ask yourself:

  • Does this e-commerce platform meet your farm business needs?
  • Does this e-commerce platform help customers find you?
  • Is this e-commerce platform tailored for local food?
  • Does the cost of this e-commerce platform fit your farm budget?

 

An E-Commerce Platform Should Meet Your Farm Business Needs

A few years ago, the best options farmers could find to support e-commerce were generic, online website servers with a shopping page feature.

That is no longer the case.  Several farmer-specific platforms have been developed with farmers and farm businesses in mind — including Food4All. But, even farmer-specific platforms have varying levels of functionality.

As you shop, think about all the tasks you’d like an online platform to perform. Food4All’s e-commerce platform allows farmers to:

  • Manage inventory across all sales channels, including point of sale, online retail and online wholesale transactions.
  • Deposits sales on a timely basis (weekly).
  • Supports farmer’s market sales.
  • Turn items on and off for availability.
  • Supports all social media.
  • Can be managed from a phone.
  • Supports credit card, in person and SNAP sales.

 

An Ecommerce Platform Should Help Customer Find You

With generic e-commerce shopping pages, it is up to the farmer-user to build out their market reach.

That means a thought-out strategy of online marketing, including blogging and social media. Yet few farmers have the time to build up their online presence effectively.

Instead of doing all the work to find your customers, e-commerce platforms like Food4All with geo-location capabilities are already set up to help customers find the farmer once they go live on the platform!

Whenever a customer looking for local food enters their zip code into the Food4All website, it automatically shows them the farmers, food artisans, and ranchers nearby.

An Ecommerce Platform Should Support Local Food Sales

Selling local food is a lot different than shipping t-shirts around the country.

Not only does that mean your customers need to be local, but the sales platform needs to support locally-based delivery options.

How will you get your food to your customers on a timely basis?   What’s the best way to keep it fresh and preserved while communicating delivery or pick up details to your customers? If you’re like most farms, you probably have several different venues for getting your farm goods to your customers.

That might be pick-up at the farm on certain days, or perhaps a delivery option. On the other hand, it could be weekly pick-up scheduled during a farmer’s market or pick-up at a set location between certain hours. Or, you might offer multiple options.

An e-commerce platform that only supports shipment  for non-perishable products as a delivery option doesn’t work for direct-market farmers.  The platform should support an unlimited number of pick-up or delivery locations.  Each location should have its own schedule and product availability.  Maybe your 5 lb beef boxes can be picked up at the farmers market, but 25 lb beef box needs to be picked up at the farm.  Your system needs to be as flexible and customizable as your business.

Is the Cost Worth It?

Farmers have multiple costs to consider and a tight budget. Make sure the pricing structure of the e-commerce platform you sign onto fits into your farm budget.

Monthly fees can dig into your bottom line, especially if your sales are seasonal. You might see many months with little to no product available and hence, little to no cash flow.

But percentage-of-sales pricing structures can be difficult to stomach, especially if you’re already paying a percentage of sales at a farmer’s market or selling your products at lower wholesale prices.

And think carefully before you commit to a big, initial upfront payment. There are now enough options in the marketplace for farm-specific e-commerce solutions that farmers and food artisans should not feel are at the mercy of the platform provider!

Food4All’s e-commerce platform is FREE to farmers and food artisans. We charge a percentage of each sale to the customer, not to you.

 

Food4All is a free, online platform built specifically for local food farmers, farmer markets and anyone selling farm and ranch goods, whether fresh food, value-added items, or CSA’s. We offer free, simple to use tools and technologies that will bring customers (new and old) to your online farm store and easily collate orders and get you paid. We also have a newly released Food4All HUB solution, perfect for farmer’s markets, food hubs and cooperatives.

For more information, check out our website at www.food4all.com.